PSU Deer Study

It’s been a rough week for the crews. Trapping conditions are rough – warm temperatures and no snow cover make for miserable trapping. The deer have the upper hand and there isn’t much we can do about that.

[Comments in brackets are from Jeannine and Duane for clarification]

From the Northern Crew:


Dear deer people,

Week 2 of trapping was… interesting, to say the least.

The snow cover we had on the ground last week, which contributed in part to the success of our initial trapping efforts, now seems like a distant memory. The forest roads were sheer ice rinks on Monday morning, so we had no choice but to strap on the ol’ tire chains.

Deer-Forest Study

By mid-week, however, it was a mud bath out there.

Now, any other year I would be embracing these unseasonably warm temps, but when your job is to catch deer, well… no snow doesn’t bode well in helping our cause. The deer just aren’t motivated to “take the risk” of entering a Clover trap or coming out to a rocket net when they have other food sources readily available to them. Let’s just say, Punxsutawney Phil & I are not on good terms.

This week’s capture total: 3.5

No, that’s not a typo. We caught three (& one half) deer this week. We opened our trap lines Monday. Tuesday morning we were off to a great start. The first trap we rolled up on–one we hadn’t been having much deer sign –had a buck fawn inside! And a feisty one at that.

Our high hopes for the day, however, soon turned to disappointment, as the remaining 17 traps were empty. That afternoon, we decided to pull the plug on a trap line that wasn’t producing for us & instead haul 4 new traps out to another location where we had deer hitting the bait.

Traps were closed Tuesday night on account of the heavy rain (not usually a forecast you see in February) & re-opened Wednesday afternoon to be checked Thursday morning. That’s when things got interesting.

Thursday morning–business as usual–we head out to check our 19 traps in the Susquehannock, with pretty low expectations after Tuesday’s disappointing turnout. Little did we know what the deer had in store for us that day!

Our first capture was a deer we are very familiar with, one we’ve been tracking on an almost daily basis since last May 24th when it was radio-collared & ear-tagged as a newborn fawn–along with its twin–thanks to a VIT that had been placed in Mama Doe by last winter’s trapping crew.

Both fawns were fitted with radio collars, which are designed to accommodate neck growth of younger deer. Due to the stretchable nature of these collars, however, they eventually wear thin & fall off (having already paid their dues to the science community by providing oodles of location data & survival info!).

We recognized the ear tag numbers on our friendly fawn right away, but with no collar to be found. We only put GPS collars on yearling/adult deer. There wasn’t much we could do other than record the recapture & let this little gal go find her sister & mama (whom she probably has some choice words for after being abandoned in a Clover trap!).Deer-Forest Study

A brief search of the muddy trap site turned up the collar which had fallen off inside the trap. While we won’t be able to keep tabs on this fawn anymore, her sister & mother are still on-air with radio collars.

FUN FACT: This fawn was collared on 5/24/15, and captured only 175 meters away in a Clover trap on 2/4/16! Deer-Forest Study

Our next “capture” of the day is somewhat shrouded in mystery. We came upon a trap laying on its side, tipped over, door closed, anchor stakes (meant to keep the trap held to the ground) just hanging from the trap. Muddy deer tracks & a devoured bait pile lent some hints as to what may have occurred that night, but luckily for us, we had a trail cam set on this trap to tell us more of the story. 

9:51PM – deer halfway enters the trap nibbling at corn

Deer-Forest Study

10:13PM – deer halfway enters again

10:17PM – deer checks out camera

Deer-Forest Study

10:21PM – deer halfway enters trapDeer-Forest Study

10:44PM – deer is caught! Over an hour after arriving on the scene. Deer spends the next hour and a half consuming the bait.

Deer-Forest Study

12:01AM – Deer last seen… giving the camera one final stare-down, as if to say, “Nice try but I’m outta here, suckers!”
Deer-Forest Study

All we can definitively say from the trail camera photos is that it appears to be an adult antlerless deer & was not a recapture (no ear tags). Had the ground been frozen, the anchor stakes likely would have held; but unfortunately the soft mud was no match for our escape artist.

We naively thought that would be the only jailbreak of the day, but we were sorely mistaken. As we pulled around the corner to what would be our last capture of the day on our trap line, we were greeted by a 4-point buck looking calmly back at us from inside the trap. Our first antlered buck! We couldn’t wait to get a collar on him.

For safety, antlered deer are processed slightly differently than those without antlers. Since antlers are dangerous weapons [recall a previous post!], we must first sedate the deer & saw the antlers off prior to processing. To do this, a net [called a purse net] is outstretched in front of the trap door. The door is then opened so the deer will run out into the purse net. We restrain the animal & administer the immobilizing drug.Deer-Forest Study

He ran into the net & stumbled (as planned), but almost instantaneously his weight tore through the purse net and, without skipping a beat, he was on his merry way [We try to get as much mileage out of trap equipment as possible. It’s expensive. Seems this purse net had one mile too many].

Thankfully, none of my precious crew members nor the deer were injured during this rodeo; I only wish I could say the same for our bruised egos.

After regrouping & with ample daylight left to burn, we were determined to redeem ourselves by launching our first rocket net that evening. Bret made the 2+ hour drive up north for the occasion. Our trail camera showed the deer coming to this particular site every night at dusk & staying pretty much straight through until dawn. We baited the rocket-net line, installed the charges, & retreated to our truck blinds and we waited… and waited… hoping for a miracle as we peered through night-vision scopes at an empty field.

Finally, after 4.5 hours we decided to cut our losses & call it a night. Perhaps the deer sensed something was off & that’s why they didn’t show, or perhaps they were just making their rounds elsewhere with less-risky food available. [Or maybe it was just a fitting end to a bad week] One thing is for certain; we need some snow–STAT!

Photo credit for the jailbreak meme goes to Antonio Del Vallé. We had a good laugh at the expression on that deer’s face right before busting free, raised eyebrow & squinty eyes, too funny.

Deer-Forest Study

Never a dull moment when it comes to trapping deer! (Except when you’re staring at a rocket net for 4.5 hours).

-Hannah, Field Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section


From the Southern Crew:


This week, we attempted to capture our first deer. We rocket netted on Tuesday, and clover trapped Thursday and Friday. Despite our efforts, the deer did not cooperate this week [again!]. But first…

On Sunday, I received an email about a possible deer mortality in Bald Eagle. The collar went in and out of mort mode, which means it was being moved around. Monday morning, my crew and I began our search for this deer.

First, we drove to the top of the mountain to search for the collar signal. The signal took us in a circle because of signal bounce, and we ended up back at the truck. [Terrain can cause telemetry signals to “bounce” around – making for long and frustrating walks]

Second, we went to the first GPS point given by the collar. No signs of predator activity. We saw only deer tracks. We followed the signal down the northern side of the mountain, where it seemed to continue bouncing all over the place. I realized that this was essentially getting us nowhere. The receiver was also dying, which hardly happens. We ended our search around 3 PM, and made our way out to practice a deer capture simulation for Tuesday when we planned to sit on our first rocket net.

Tuesday morning I got another GPS location for the “dead” deer. We went to the GPS point and circled out, and again, found no signs. Only deer tracks. We continued to follow the signal up the mountain but decided that the search was not worth the time, as we had planned to sit on our first rocket net Tuesday night. So, we left and continued preparing for our night ahead.

Three of us went into the blind around 1630. Normally, we would only have a maximum of two people in the blind, but Bret came along to observe and help.

The deer at this site were consistently coming to the bait between 1800 and 1900 every night. Around 1855, we heard “snorts” down over the hill from us. The deer had busted us! They were downwind, and unfortunately did not come out where we had hoped they would.Deer-Forest Study

Either way, it was an exciting experience. We have a wireless camera set up at this site, so I checked the cameras later on in the evening. At least 7 deer had visited the site over an hour later. Also we would have to wait until we received better night vision equipment to sit on rocket nets or quit trapping before dark, because with no snow, we could not see anything after dark.

Wednesday was rainy, so we did not set clover traps. I did, however, find out that we may have been chasing around a live “dead” deer. On Tuesday, I asked to continue receiving GPS locations as they become available. We wanted to check those locations as soon as possible to avoid wasting any more time dealing with the constant signal bounce. On Wednesday, I received notice that the deer must be alive. The mortality notifications had stopped.

Wednesday, I sent the crew over to Bald Eagle to check our clover sites and rebait. No deer. Soon after, the truck got a flat tire. Rough times in paradise. I met up with the crew to set up another rocket net. Afterwards, we headed to Rothrock to set clover traps.

Thursday, we awoke early in hopes of catching our first deer. We checked our trap line, but no luck. Friday was a similar story. We put out some additional clover traps. To end the week, we rebaited some of our sites that were deep into Rothrock.

We should be setting our traps in Bald Eagle this coming week and hopefully doing some rocket netting.

This job certainly keeps you on your toes!

-April, Field Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section

P.S. See the other photo that I attached. A deer from one of our rocket net sites. I made a collage of it and it made me smile. 

Deer-Forest Study

[Glad something makes them smile because it certainly isn’t all that fun out there right now]

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